The Old Testament Unpacked

We are always being told that, as Christians, it’s important to read the bible – and it is! And most of us do try – but often we find it so hard. And that’s especially true when it comes to reading the Old Testament. Some books are fine – Genesis and Exodus, Joshua, 1 and 2 Samuel and so on – the books that chart the history of the people of Israel or those that tell a story. At least we can follow what’s happening and, even though we know that if we dig deeper we discover more, we can feel that we’re able to make sense of what we read. But there are other books that appear not to be so easy. The prophets, Ezra and Nehemiah, some of the Psalms, much of the wisdom literature. Here we find ourselves without a context or a reference point to be able to make sense of these writings. We find ourselves not knowing enough of the times from which they come to fully understand what the the authors are trying to say to us about God and about the relationship of his people with him. And then there are the names, which often clearly have a meaning which it seems important to know, but even if there’s a footnote to explain it still isn’t always clear.

For this reason, during the Sundays after Trinity, I have been preaching on the Old Testament readings from the Lectionary. But that will only cover a small part of the OT. Therefore, over the next few weeks (time and other constraints permitting) I intend to use this blog to provide some basic introductions to the backgrounds and contexts of some of the books of the Old Testament. It’s not intended to be deeply theological, nor particularly all embracing; simply a place to start trying to understand a bit more about how the Old Testament works and how we allow the writers of the its books to speak to us in our context. If you are encouraged to pick up your bible and dive into the Old Testament, that’ll be great. And if it gives you an insight into the right sort of questions that we need to ask to understand what we read, so much the better.

How to read the Old Testament? Most of the books of the Old Testament reward those who read the whole of the book rather than just dipping into them. It must be admitted, though, that some parts of some books can be tedious to read. It is useful then to use a guide – either a commentary or a study guide. The Bible Reading Fellowship produce excellent notes, although they mostly follow themes rather than whole books. A recently published series of commentaries called the Old Testament for Everyone offers simple to follow commentaries on most of the books in the Old Testament (others will be published in due course).

And, always, pray as you read that God will reveal his word to you.

Next – So, What is the Old Testament?